By Kimberly Conner
It was a cold, wet evening, but things heated up quickly.
Community members gathered at the Guild for Exceptional Children’s headquarters building (260 68th Street) in Bay Ridge on Tuesday night to hear politicians duke it out over the vacant 11th Congressional District seat.
Democratic Councilman Vincent Gentile, Republican Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan and Green Party candidate James Lane participated in the debate.
Gentile, considered the underdog, took an aggressive stance, criticizing Donovan’s record on prosecuting domestic violence abusers and tying him to the recently passed Republican budget in the House.
Gentile referenced documents from the Office of Court Administration that show Staten Island had the lowest conviction rate for domestic violence in the city last year and the highest rate of case dismissals.
“Not a record I’d be proud about,” said Gentile.
Donovan, who typically maintains a moderate Republican stance, fought back with his own verbal jabs. He said Gentile has voted to raise taxes and also suggested that he intentionally misconstrued the domestic violence prosecution data.
Gentile rebutted the tax issue by calling it “political trickonometry.”
Tensions rose even higher when the Bay Ridge Community Council moderators opened the floor to questions.
“Are you going to uphold the constitution?” asked one woman. She shouted into the microphone for several minutes about the failings of President Obama and concluded with, “God Bless Dan Donovan! Ted Cruz 2016!”
After that, moderators had a hard time keeping order in the packed room.
One audience member repeatedly asked Donovan how many times he had failed to get an indictment, alluding to the Eric Garner case. Donovan’s attempts to answer the question were interrupted.
“Are you finished?” asked Donovan.
James Lane, who avoided the debate rhetoric for the most part, also referenced the Eric Garner case in his closing remarks. He said it made him queasy that Donovan claims to serve Staten Islanders well.
“I know a lot of Staten Islanders who are not happy,” he said. “I want independent investigations into these police brutality cases.”
After the event, Gentile elaborated on his criticism of Donovan’s prosecution record, showing graphs to reporters demonstrating that Donovan’s violent felony conviction rate is slightly lower than the conviction rate of the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, reports the New York Observer.
Gentile added that the Staten Island DA has recused himself from trials more than twice as many times as other prosecutors in New York City, with no explanation. Gentile urged Donovan to explain why he has recused himself so frequently.
The 11th Congressional District covers all of Staten Island and sections of Southwest Brooklyn. The special election will take place on May 5.
[Additional reporting by Rachel Silberstein]